Today an amazing little almost-two-year-old and her grandmomma went for a walk and ended up in front of our house. Actually, the grandmomma told me they usually turn at the corner, but when they saw us playing in the yard, they came to visit. I thought that was brave. I need to be the kind of person who walks toward people instead of hiding behind trucks until they go away. Or looking very busy with child-scolding or dog-walking that I can't make eye contact. It's silly, but it's true. I'm working on it.
The girl, M, was a beautiful newly-articulate red head. (You guys must know that I have a weakness for red heads.) She had tiny little ponytails folded over in what my sisters call "messy buns" all over her head. Purely functional, grandmomma said. I liked her already. I have to admit that the first thing I noticed about M was her hair, and the second thing I noticed was her little hand. She had one normal hand, and one tiny one, with little nubbins instead of fingers.
Oh, gracious,I thought to myself. Please, Lord, don't let Cate say something embarassing. Already I'm having to remember to breathe, thinking of all the horrid things that could come spilling out of that mouth. She's only had three years to develop the filter; hers still has huge gaps. Kids are just so inconveniently honest. I'm reminded of the time in Target when a woman spoke to me in passing and then Cate said loudly, "What did that big lady say?" Luckily, that's been the worst of it so far. I'm sure that today is the day that changes.
The girls greet each other shyly. Then grandmomma says something brilliant. "Cate, did you notice M's little hand?"
"What little hand?" Cate asks, curious. First she notices M's normal hand, and points out that M's hands are littler than her own, since she's almost four.
"Wow! You're almost four? That's great! M, show Cate your little hand."
M holds her little hand out very close to Cate. Cate looks it over and gives it a squeeze. "Hm," she says. "You wanna see my tricycle?"
M and Cate run full-speed across the yard. Cate shows her how to ring the bell.
"Ooh, I ride it?" M asks.
"Um, sure." Cate shares it easily. Two miracles already in this short conversation.
Later, when it is Cate's turn on the tricycle, she wants M to stand on the step on the back. She helps her off, holding her little hand. She runs her fingers over the nubbins, back and forth, back and forth. I tell her to be gentle, just because I don't know what else to say. She gives me that you're-exasperating-me-Mom look (She already has one!), and I know she's right, because her touch is caressing and curious.
Cate climbs on the seat, and tells M to stand on the back and hold on to her.
"I'm not sure it's a good idea," I say, picturing wheels careening and children rolling onto the concrete.
Grandmomma isn't worried. She positions M with her arms around Cate and stands back.
"Go slow," I instruct, and Cate pedals forward. M stands grinning wildly, arms wrapped around Cate's shoulders. Cate drives M around the driveway, steady on the pedals and careful on the turns. She has the most precious, proud little smile. I hover, but Grandmomma chats. She has raised four kids of her own, she tells me.
We spend a good half hour together, talking about the neighborhood and our families. When it is time for them to go home, they make us promise to come visit them soon.
"You know what?" Cate says to them before they walk away. "M is different than me."
I hold my breath.
"She calls you Grandmomma. I call mine Grandma...or Grandi or Mimi."
Exhale. A golden hallelujah moment.
I learned so much today. I want to connect all the dots for you, but I'm still working them out myself. How M held out her flaw, her thing that made her different, for all to see- without self-consciousness or hesitation. How Cate took her little hand in her own. How it was such a non-issue. How Grandmomma handled it all with grace, with the wisdom of an experienced mother. And how I have so much left to learn.